Heiltsuk Nation looks to build Indigenous Marine Response Centre

Bella Bella – The Heiltsuk Nation has published a report outlining plans to strengthen oil spill prevention and clean-up on the Central Coast by establishing an Indigenous Marine Response Centre (IMRC).

“When the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill happened last year, we experienced first-hand what passes for a ‘world class’ spill response,” says Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett of Heiltsuk Tribal Council. “We waited for hours for a team to arrive, only to have them deploy defective equipment, in unfamiliar conditions, without safety gear or training for volunteer responders. As our community’s economy, environment and way of life hung in the balance, we promised ourselves this would never happen in our territory again.”

The report, Creating a World-Leading Response Plan, describes the likelihood and distribution of various types of marine incidents on BC’s Central and North Coast, and examines best spill response practices from around the world. Ultimately, it puts forward a plan for the IMRC that will vastly improve marine safety and safeguard the environment.

Prepared by experts in marine safety and engineering, the report shares priorities outlined in the Federal Government’s Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan (OPP). In particular, the IMRC plan shares the OPP’s focus on Indigenous-led responses and dedication to “a world-leading marine safety system that improves responsible shipping and protects Canada’s waters, including new preventive and response measures.”

The proposed IMRC would be located in Heiltsuk territory, where 80 percent of spill incidents in the study area occur. The Centre would be able to respond to 100 percent of incidents within five hours or less; it would be staffed by trained crews familiar with the local marine environment, and equipped with vessels and equipment designed specifically for conditions on the Central Coast.

“Heiltsuk have been protecting and stewarding our territory since time immemorial,” says Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt. “This proposal is a natural evolution of that work, and builds on the best available local knowledge and technology. We look forward to implementing this with the support of all other levels of government and our neighbours. We do this not only for Heiltsuk, but for all who travel within and through our territories.”

With an initial investment of $11 million by January 1, 2018, the IMRC’s base operations, fleet and crew could be operational by summer 2018.

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